5 ingredients for effective team collaboration

By Matylda Chmielewska

5 ingredients for effective team collaboration

Do you know the feeling when you start working with a new group of people? You dive in with huge expectations, and all things seem to be falling into place.

Then one miscommunication happens, and then another one. You slowly begin to realize that what your team should be focusing on is fostering the team collaboration, instead of just waiting for it to magically appear and taking it for granted.

In today’s post, I’ll go through the steps your team should take to make sure you all collaborate effectively.

Let’s go straight in.

What’s essential for effective team collaboration?

1. Team alignment

What’s absolutely crucial for effective collaboration within a team? If I’d be to leave you with just one thing in mind, I’d go with team alignment.

I know you may be tempted to think that if you know what your team should be doing, everyone else feels that way. That is rarely the case.

As a tech lead, you should make sure that your whole team understands what is that you’re trying to achieve.

As a rule of thumb, everyone on the team should be able to give you a summary of your team’s purpose in 1-2 sentences, and there should be no surprises when you hear it. If that’s not the case, you have some presenting to do.

Choose the format wisely, though - your product mission and vision will be best combined with a roadmap to speak to the more task-oriented people on your team.

2. Communication

There’s also another key element of effective team collaboration, and that is communication. It not only enables alignment but also put all other ingredients from this list in place. Duh!

What’s important here is that communicating right also takes practice. You need to remember that not all forms and channels may be perfect for what you want to share at this very moment. Some information can be distributed via email or Slack, while others may require a formal meeting.

3. Psychological safety

Have you ever worked with a group of people who avoided speaking up at all costs, even if it meant they hadn’t been able to perform their work properly? If you’ve experienced that at least once, you’ll know how important psychological safety at work is.

Still, many managers see it as some touchy-feely fuzz which doesn’t require to be pursued. The term itself was introduced in a study published by the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson. She defined it as ‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’

Everyone needs to feel safe

It wasn’t actually until 2012 when the value of having a safe space at work was tested and analyzed. That was the year when Google embarked on a long-term study - code-named Project Aristotle - which sole purpose was to discover what truly makes a great team. The team lead by Julia Rozovsky quickly found that creating psychological safety was one of the most important factors for team success.

Alright, this sounds reasonable, but how to actually do it? The first step is to make sure that no one is ever punished for speaking their mind. This doesn’t mean your team members get a free pass at being a-holes. Quite the contrary, you need to encourage civil, constructive debate.

4. Trust

While trust is absolutely vital for daily human interactions, it’s often overlooked. Without knowing that your teammates are able to and will actually do their jobs, it may be difficult to perform all your tasks too.

So, what are the key elements of building trust within your team?

Ability

Whether you can actually get the job done is your ability. This parameter will increase as your coworkers get to know you better and know they can rely on you.

Integrity

Building integrity is all about consistency. Are you not only able to complete your tasks but also do it gracefully, on time, and regularly? This skill will be particularly vital if you’re working on a long-term project.

Benevolence

And finally, benevolence which refers to how compassionate you are towards your teammates. Attacking others for their failures means that they won’t be able to trust you to support them next time.

And as this 2016 study show trust at work can be actually measured. You can set scores for each of the elements above, and then use this formula to assess trustworthiness for any of your team members or your team as a whole:

Trustworthiness = Ability x Integrity x Benevolence

What skills and practices may help you increase your team’s trustworthiness?

The essential element here is honest and open communication. Make sure that once you dedicate yourself to something, you deliver it And if you do fail, tell others about it. Don’t hide the truth from them, even if it’s difficult or makes you uncomfortable.

5. Listening

The truth is very few people know how to listen. When engaged in team discussion, many people will focus on their contributions, which means that they will be awaiting the moments of silence to start talking about their perspective.

That’s not what genuine listening is all about. On the contrary, the first rule of it is to ensure that you’ve heard and understood what other people are saying before you start speaking up.

If you’ve worked as a tech lead for a while, you may have actually encountered a different problem. You talk about this new feature you’re about to start implementing and want your teammates to get excited and start suggesting the next steps for it. You ask an open-ended question, and then… no one wants to speak up.

The problem here is that the developers tend to avoid speaking up at team meetings. Instead, they may come back to their desks and start working trying to figure things out on their own. This may cause some miscommunications which in consequence, will call for another team meetups where people won’t communicate either, etc. You know the drill.

To avoid this loop of misery, make sure that - as a technical leader - you find ways to nurture discussion in a format that will be most safe for your team members and most beneficial for the project as a whole.

Another issue is what is not being said when your team collaborates. Some people may feel like they can’t express all of their concerns, and it’s better to stay silent to avoid confrontation with other teammates.

Your turn

So, here it is! My first post on the Teaminator blog and the guide to effective team collaboration. Just to recap the points, the 5 essentials for achieving it are:

Would you add any elements to the list? What’s your experience collaborating with your teammates? Let me know on Twitter or join our subreddit for tech leaders!